The fight for second fiddle; who should understudy Handre Pollard?

South Africa won the World Cup without a flyhalf on the bench, unless you count utility back Frans Steyn, who is predominantly a centre and fullback on the pitch. This means they went through 80 minutes in their big games with just one man – Handre Pollard – suitable at flyhalf. While Pollard is certainly […]

The fight for second fiddle; who should understudy Handre Pollard?

South Africa won the World Cup without a flyhalf on the bench, unless you count utility back Frans Steyn, who is predominantly a centre and fullback on the pitch.

This means they went through 80 minutes in their big games with just one man – Handre Pollard – suitable at flyhalf. While Pollard is certainly a brilliant player, injuries are always an emergent threat. If Pollard had been injured in the World Cup final, Steyn would have been forced into a position not quite his type.

Now, with a new coach, there may be certain space for changes. Many Springboks, including Pollard himself, have been supportive of the 6-2 substitutes makeup which, in the World Cup final, was two backs; Herschel Janjities and Frans Steyn.

A scrumhalf is certainly necessary, but a utility back is not so. In the knockout games during the World Cup, Pollard played the full 80 minutes for his side, with both the backline substitutes coming on. In most games, Faf De Klerk has been replaced in the dying moments by a replacement scrumhalf.

However, now with several Test matches in the coming years, South Africa have the chance to mix-and-match and find their ideal starting squad and substitutes.

If a flyhalf were to be one of those backline substitutes, who should it be?

We have contenders from inside Super Rugby itself and there are contenders from each team. From the Stormers, we have the rising star Damian Willemse. From the Lions, we have long-time stalwart Elton Janjities.

Then we also have Curwin Bosch from the Sharks. This year, Morne Steyn mad a prodigal return to the Bulls. While finally, on loan from the Sharks, Robert Du Preez has been a star in Manchester with the Sale Sharks alongside De Klerk and multiple others.

Curwin Bosch

Prior to lockdown, RugbyPass had rated the young man as the form flyhalf of Super Rugby. He is certainly a quick man and a risk-taker, perhaps one of the class to play for the Boks.

Attacking statistics
Points 86
Tries 0
Metres 49
Runs 23
Defenders beaten 4
Clean breaks 0
Passes 82
Clean breaks 0
Try assists 3

However, he has achieved a measly 41 per cent tackle completion, – a dismal nine successes from 22 tackle attempts.

In kicking, he has managed a 72 per cent strike-rate, second to Morne Steyn.

Kicking statistics
Kicks 59
Conversion goals 15
Penalty goals 16
Attempts 43
Successful 31

Robert Du Preez

According to Sport24, given the man’s size and skill set, he is theoretically a like-for-like replacement for Pollard.

Apparently, he has been impressive as the second-highest points scorer so far in this year’s premiership with 116 points. According to Sport24, he has accumulated a record of handling skills at Sale. He has made 174 passes without one going awry, which is certainly quite a feat.

To begin with, few flyhalves even throw that many in a season, and to have that count without even one going awry is extremely impressive. Such a record points to more-than-solid and perhaps spectacular distribution.

His 187 running metres is extremely respectable and surpasses many others. His tackle completion of 84 per cent is also solid.

According to Opta Sports’ stats, he leads the premiership with eight try assists – no small feat considering the quality of his contemporaries.

Elton Janjities

With such an overall attacking performance in the Super Rugby, Elton Janjities has been a firm two under Pollard for a long time. He has been rated as the South African Super Rugby player of the decade.

This year has been no different with a strong attacking influence for the Lions.

Attacking statistics
Points 42
Tries 1
Metres 161
Runs 45
Defenders beaten 12
Clean breaks 6
Passes 133
Try Assists 6
Defensive statistics
Tackles 16
Tackles missed 8
Turnovers won 0
Turnovers conceded 10
Kicking statistics
Attempts 22
Goals 15

His kicking accuracy of 68 per cent is not the best, but it is certainly decent. Janjities may lose out in defence, where he has missed eight tackles just from 24 attempts. Tackling is his weakness, but at least he is not the worst of the lot, still with an overall tackle rate higher than Curwin Bosch. His attacking record is certainly respectable.

Also, with reference to a video published by Squidge Rugby, might I add that Janjitites has been a crucial part of the expansive Bok gameplan that was used against lower-level sides in the World Cup.

Rassie Erasmus had a gameplan to maximise the abilities of Elton when this man was on the pitch. While he is far from the most well-rounded no.10, he is certainly a strong distributor.

With some reviewed footage in the Squidge video, it has been consistent that when Janjities takes the ball, he has a strong distribution to set another in space, sometimes causing line-breaks.

Firstly, he often takes the ball from the scrumhalf flat, before spotting the space and dropping off the pass. Sometimes he switches off the pass to a forward runner, while on other occasions he finds it through to a gap, bringing out the Bok runners.

Damian Willemse

Attacking statistics
Points 38
Tries 1
Metres 164
Runs 40
Defenders Beaten 20
Clean Breaks 4
Passes 57
Try Assists 4

He is perhaps the best running no.10 of the lot; 164 metres, 20 defenders beaten, and four clean breaks. However, he has made fewer passes than Janjities and Bosch. He has been electric with his pace, which is one of the best in the world for a flyhalf.

Defensive statistics
Tackles 37
Tackles Missed 10
Turnovers Won 7
Turnovers Conceded 14

A total of 79 per cent tackling is strong but not the best. The number of turnovers conceded is not as far as egregious as a missed tackle, and seven turnovers won has been strong.

Kicking statistics
Kicks 41
Conversions 9
Penalty goals 5

This is one statistic that goes against Willemse. Sure, he can score a kick, but this kick rate places him next to Jonathan Sexton in this year’s Six Nations. This kicking consistency is rather poor.

Morne Steyn

The prodigal return of Morne Steyn was not brilliant. It was not equivalent to Aaron Cruden’s in the return to Super Rugby but, in certain areas, he was solid.

Attacking statistics
Points 40
Tries 1
Metres 7
Runs 9
Defenders Beaten 0
Clean Breaks 0
Passes 71
Try Assists 3

He has had a decent overall attacking influence with 71 passes but it was still lower than that of Bosch. With a measly running record of seven metres made in the entire season, he is certainly not a running type.

Three try assists match Bosch, but lose to Willemse. However, try assist stats may not tell the full story as they often favour the man who throws the last pass.

He has been solid in two areas; kicking and defence.

Kicking statistics
Kicks 36
Conversion Goals 4
Penalty Goals 8
Attempts 15
Successful 12

Given his metronomic nature, it is no surprise that he kicks solidly. An 80per cent kicking record surpasses all other South African flyhalves in the competition.

Defensive statistics
Tackles Won % 83%
Attempts 42
Successful 35

This tackling record on the cards beats that of Willemse, Bosch, and Janjities.


Robert du Preez has shone for Sale and may have a strong chance with a strong count on the statistics and the point count for Sale. However, Elton Janjities has been in the team in the 2019 World Cup, while none of the other contenders have.

Curwin Bosch has been a strong attacker this season, but not so defensively, and his attacking record could put him in contention. Meanwhile, Morne Steyn and Willemse lurk in the wings.

Disclaimer: All chart statistics are from Rugby Pass International

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The difference between Super Rugby and NRL? It’s all in the marketing

A week after the Brumbies-Reds Super Rugby AU fans of both rugby codes got the chance to watch NRL powerhouses South Sydney Rabbitohs and Sydney Roosters in what should have been a titanic Round 20 match-up. Falling on the union side of the rugby divide, I will admit that, bar some knowledge here and there, […]

The difference between Super Rugby and NRL? It’s all in the marketing

A week after the Brumbies-Reds Super Rugby AU fans of both rugby codes got the chance to watch NRL powerhouses South Sydney Rabbitohs and Sydney Roosters in what should have been a titanic Round 20 match-up.

Falling on the union side of the rugby divide, I will admit that, bar some knowledge here and there, I am not aware of the true intricacies of league – who the greatest players are or who the bright hopes for the future are et cetera. However, watching the Rabbitohs dismantle the Roosters, who are still hoping for a premiership three-peat, I found myself distracted back towards the thing I was seeking distraction from, namely my paid job!

The play was fairly turgid, with opposing players appearing to prefer running directly at the nearest man rather than using any footwork to gain extra yards, and support runners did not seem as frequent and imaginative as some diehard league fans would have you believe occurs on the regular, with the true skill coming from the ball player ‘always’ selecting the right option.

The Rabbitohs defensive line was fast and solid, as demonstrated by their concession of only two tries, but the Roosters defence looked as fearsome as the Wallabies in recent years, and we know the bashing that has taken in both the press and stadiums.

All while this decidedly one-sided affair was taking place the commentary continually reminded us of the great spectacle we were watching. Every hit, big or otherwise, was met with, “Great shot by X,” or, “He’s showing his physicality here tonight on Fox League“.

Each bit of off-the-cuff skills had the theme tune of, “Special skills on display here on Fox League,” or, “That’s what he brings every time he steps onto the field” et cetera.

All of this despite the pictures showing some good but not great hits and skills you would expect from professional footy players.

The commentary and overall production of the show was all geared towards the positive aspects of the game as a whole regardless of what was actually happening, the idea being that if you were sat in the pub or even had the footy on in the background while doing something else and heard that commentary, you would start paying attention and start buying into the teams or players.

Compare this to media coverage of rugby union in Australia. The commentary often resembles three blokes discussing in-jokes that aren’t actually that funny or comparing how the current state of the game is nowhere near the level it used to be. Coincidentally, the ‘higher level’ also happens to be when they played.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The skill level on show by some players in Super Rugby may not be of the standards of George Gregan, Stephen Larkham et al, but neither were the skills of a number of their colleagues. And the constant bashing by the commentary team of anybody who doesn’t display those highest-level skills does the game a disservice.

I’ll happily accept that union commentary is very complimentary of Wallabies players when they don their Super Rugby shirts. Taniela Tupou, Michael Hooper, Matt To’omua et cetera all get big props when they show their abilities, but telling us that so and so was a bin man or a chippy 12 months ago and has done well to be playing in this team doesn’t help things. These are good news stories but in commentary make it sound like these players are lucky to be there or that the standard is so low that anybody could walk into a starting shirt.

Going back to the idea of watching rugby in the pub or having it on in the background, when listening to Super Rugby AU commentary you would be less likely to turn around and start watching the game given half the time the commentators don’t seem to be interested or the teams seemed to be filled with chippies, labourers, bin men and private schoolboys who have all decided to come together and show how far the game has fallen.

But the game hasn’t fallen. It has stood still.

While teams across the world have sought to progress and develop their reach and skill levels, the Wallabies have rested on their laurels and taken second-hand advice from league about what elite sports teams do and should expect. The public spats and disagreements about how rugby union isn’t what it used to be and that Rugby Australia would be lucky to get a new broadcast partner simply treads the same path that the sport has gone down in the past ten years, driving down its value and interest both in the business world and the homes of the Australian public.

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How the NRL has grown and sustained its growth in years gone by is extraordinary given not many people globally know what rugby league is, but the sport’s level of production and self-promotion compares with that of the major US leagues. Ahead of the new NRL season there was an advert that essentially promoted the game’s physicality, albeit completely ignoring its questionable stance on high shots and concussions.

What is little Johnny going to be interested in? Big hits, players diving in to score tries, and passes round the back and through the legs? Or that this player was a bin man and he now gets to play with these guys who all went to private schools in Brisbane or Sydney?

One of the problems union faces in Australia, a country with a population expected to top 30 million by 2030, is that it is too comfortable being a game ‘for the boys’. It needs to stop having its perennial in-jokes and start to truly reach out through televisions, computers and phones, grab the population by the shoulders and hold them there until they buy into the sport.

Simply looking at YouTube should give the marketing teams some ideas. The most popular rugby videos of either code are those involving big hits and hot steppers. Give us some of those. Let players show their characters off. Don’t chastise someone because he doesn’t always stick to the script or isn’t afraid of standing up for himself.

Revitalise the on-screen talent. So many people care about this game and can provide just as much insight into what is going on as those currently in the chairs. Mix it up. Get some younger blood in there.

James Slipper

(Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Look at what is happening over in the UK with football and rugby union coverage – people who have been involved in the game more recently are getting more opportunities in the media. Their ability to connect with the players but still ask difficult questions helps engage younger audiences, who recognise the people involved. That’s not to say players from yesteryear don’t have merit or aren’t included – they do and they are, but rather than asking them to be the jack-the-lad type, they’re able to provide a wiser viewpoint.

What about getting a former referee involved? Or someone from the women’s game? A sevens coach may be able to provide different insight into the skills on show.

Whoever secures the rights to show rugby union in Australia next need to have some stipulations in their contract regarding their promotion of the sport, including adverts, scheduling, weekly shows and just an overall positive outlook.

Nobody wins if the value of union is driven down by the very people put in place to help give it life. Strong leadership is needed. Let’s hope it’s found off the field as it appears to have been found on it.

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